One Friday as an end-of-week celebration, my son and I walked into a coffee shop for a treat, browsed the chalkboard menus, and discovered our love for Italian sodas (well, personally, I rediscovered my love for the fruity, fizzy iced drink).
Traditionally, an Italian strawberry soda is a non-caffeinated iced drink. Strawberry syrup is poured over ice and topped with club soda. Then milk or cream is added before topping it all off with homemade whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. It’s fizzy, fruity, creamy, and delicious!
My son and I tried different flavors, but none compared to strawberry. It was perfectly balanced—tart and fruity—and went dreamily with the cream poured over the top.
Making Italian Soda at Home
When I told my mother-in-law that her grandson loved strawberry Italian sodas, she was thrilled because it brought back family memories for her as well. She immediately gifted us a bottle of Torani strawberry syrup, and we started making homemade versions. I couldn’t help but wonder if I could make syrup with fresh strawberries for our own take on a coffee shop Italian soda, and that’s how this recipe was born. It turns out that strawberry syrup really is easy to make from scratch!
We drink these strawberry Italian sodas all year round but find them especially satisfying when the warm weather hits. I keep this homemade strawberry syrup in the refrigerator so that I can have the drink ready whenever the mood strikes, usually late afternoon on Friday or Saturday. I’m thrilled to have rediscovered the pleasure of Italian sodas and cherish the moments spent sipping it with family.
History of Italian Soda
Contrary to its name, Italian sodas didn’t originate in Italy. The story goes that the Italian soda was invented by the founders of the Torani company in San Francisco around 1925. The style of syrups that Torani made originated in Italy, hence the name. The drink took off and the rest is history.
How to Make Strawberry Syrup
Homemade strawberry syrup is a combination of sugar, water, and fresh strawberries simmered on low heat to release all the strawberry flavor. Quarter the strawberries and ensure that they are in a single layer in the pot with the water and sugar. The strawberries won’t be completely covered in liquid but that is ok.
As the mixture heats up, the sugar will dissolve. Once bubbles reach the surface of the pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 7 minutes, or until all the strawberries are soft and pale in color and offer no resistance when pierced with a fork. The fruity strawberry scent will fill the kitchen by the time the strawberries are completely softened. Strain the cooked syrup, discard the strawberries, and cool the syrup to room temperature before using.
Fresh or Frozen Strawberries?
This recipe works with fresh or frozen strawberries, but in-season, fresh strawberries are my favorite. Fresh, ripe, juicy, in-season strawberries pack the most robust strawberry flavor for this syrup. When buying strawberries, look for plump, bright red strawberries with fresh green tops with no signs of mold or mushiness.
Frozen strawberries take longer to come to a simmer and may need an extra couple of minutes to ensure the strawberries are completely softened. Check the resistance of the berries at 10 minutes. The taste is similar no matter fresh or frozen, so feel free to use what you have on hand.
If you have tart, out of season strawberries, extract the most flavor by using a spoon to press as much juice out of the simmered strawberries during the straining process. The resulting syrup won’t be as clear, but the extra flavor is well worth it.
This recipe is really versatile! It will work with any berry. For soft berries with seeds such as raspberries and blackberries, be sure to use a fine-mesh strainer to remove all the seeds. Blueberries make a thicker syrup than other types of berries but taste amazing in an Italian soda.
You can also weave in additional flavor to your strawberry syrup by using different extracts. Use a spoon and stir in extracts to the syrup after straining and allow to cool to room temperature before using or storing. Here are my favorite extracts and amounts to add for every 1 cup strawberry syrup:
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
- 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon rose water
If you're unsure whether to add an extract or not, take a spoonful of cooled syrup and stir in 1/8 teaspoon extract and taste. If you like the flavor profile, then proceed to add the amount of extract directed above. If not, then dispose of the spoonful and either try again with another spoonful and a different extract, or happily use the homemade strawberry syrup as is.
If you’d prefer to use fresh ingredients instead of extracts then try adding citrus peels or soft herbs, such as mint. Citrus peels can be added along with the strawberries, sugar, and water and lend a hint of floral essence to the syrup. Add soft herbs during the last 2 minutes of simmering to avoid imparting any bitterness to the final product.
Ingredient Swaps and Substitutions
Besides enhancing the syrup with additional flavors, you can substitute other ingredients as well to make a delicious Italian soda.
- Try using flavored seltzer water, such as raspberry or grapefruit, instead of club soda.
- Instead of half and half, use a milk alternative such as oat milk or coconut milk. I found almond milk to be too overpowering (and I drink almond milk daily), so I’d avoid this option.
- Swap vanilla extract in the whipped cream with clear vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, or the zest of half an orange.
- Substitute 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar with sifted cocoa powder for chocolate whipped cream.
- Substitute heavy cream with whipped coconut cream or other non-dairy whipping cream.
Tips and Tricks for Making an Italian Soda
Making Strawberry Italian Soda is surprisingly easy, but here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- When making the strawberry syrup, keep the mixture at a low simmer to discourage foaming.
- To use a low-fat substitute for half and half, double the amount to 1/4 cup to prevent curdling.
- Start with cold cream when making whipped cream from scratch. You can also add the whisk and bowl into the freezer for 10 minutes before you make the whipped cream for better results.
- Whip the cream by using a hand mixer or with a bowl and whisk. I find that small quantities, such as the 1/2 cup needed for this recipe, are difficult to whip in a stand mixer.
How to Store Leftover Syrup and Whipped Cream
This recipe makes one cup of strawberry syrup and one cup of whipped cream, which is enough for three strawberry Italian sodas. Refrigerate leftover strawberry syrup for up to two weeks in an airtight container. Remaining whipped cream will last for two days in the refrigerator, or feel free to freeze it for later!
More Delicious Drink Recipes
Strawberry Italian Soda
- For the strawberry syrup
- 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups (8 ounces) strawberries, hulled and quartered
- For the whipped cream
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons (18g) powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- For the Italian soda
- 1/3 cup strawberry syrup
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 cup (6 ounces) club soda
- 2 tablespoons half-and-half
- To serve
- Whipped cream
- Maraschino cherry, for garnish
Make strawberry syrup:
In a small pot over medium heat, combine the sugar, water, and strawberries. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook until the strawberries offer zero resistance when pierced with a fork, about 7 minutes.
Using a fine mesh strainer, strain into a non-reactive bowl and discard strawberries. The syrup will be clear, ruby red in color, sweet, and full of strawberry flavor. Let the syrup cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes before using.
Make the whipped cream:
In a medium bowl combine the heavy cream, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Using a hand mixer, start whipping the cream on low speed. Gradually turn up the speed to medium and whip until the heavy cream is at stiff peaks, about 90 seconds.
The whipped cream on the beater should remain in place and not droop, this is called stiff peaks. Be careful not to whip too long or the cream will turn to butter! Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the Italian soda and serve:
Pour 1/3 cup strawberry syrup and the lemon juice in a glass measuring cup and stir to combine.
Pour the mixture over a tall glass filled halfway with ice. Top with club soda. Pour the half-and-half into the glass and stir thoroughly to combine the drink. Spoon a dollop of whipped cream on top and finish with a maraschino cherry. Add a straw and enjoy immediately.